By ERWIN CHLANDA
After years of being mostly a “look, but don’t touch” object, the Residency has been taken out of mothballs.
Amble through the room where Queen Elisabeth II slept.
Have a seat in a big armchair in the living room and read a book.
Or bring your laptop, sit at one of three tables in the northern verandah, help yourself to a cuppa in the kitchen (by donation) and have a business meeting.
The southern verandah is now an art gallery and the Valet Room (so called for the 1963 Royal Visit), is currently home to the Desert Song Festival office.
And join the crowd when the new bakery “pops up” on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
The building is now open weekdays from 10am to 3pm and on Todd Mall market days from 10am to 2pm. Who says the CBD is dead?
The Residency does not have a history of urgency. It took from 1927 to 1930 to be built, necessitating Government Resident, John Cawood and his wife to reside in the Stuart Arms pub, across the road, for a while.
Nevertheless, it represents an era some locals may regard with a degree fondness, in the current times of political frustration: It was – once finished – the “seat of administration” when Central Australia enjoyed legislative independence from the rest of the Northern Territory, between 1926 and 1931.
The town, in September 2013, received with some trepidation the resolve of the new CLP Government to do something with the building and put a call out to the community for expressions of interest.
A report in the Alice Springs News Online drew many reader comments.
There was concern that the development-focused new government would turn The Residency into Government offices or grant the lease to a commercial business, says Heritage Alice Springs Coordinator, Tara Leckey.
“The building was still on the heritage register and had to be accessible to the public, but not necessarily the inside,” she says.
Heritage Alice Springs had held the lease since 2003, the Residency had been run solely by volunteers.
“The group submitted an expression of interest on behalf of its members in order to keep the building open to the public, and were extremely pleased to be awarded a new lease and with better conditions,” says Ms Leckey.
The Araluen Cultural Centre became the landlord and the new agreement is running for five years.
Funding from Minister Matt Conlan’s office was also secured for an 18 month arts program, temporary gallery walls were installed, the old carpet was taken up and the floors painted.
Volunteers helped re-arranging the furniture, “getting a much cleaner looking space,” says Ms Leckey.
It was clear some nimble footwork was needed to hold it all together: It’s a matter of recognising opportunities, and creating some, and going all out to take advantage of them, says Ms Leckey. She cobbled together a string of deals.
The NT Government pays for the garden and for building maintenance costs.
Araluen employs an Information Officer (Judy Berghan) five days a week to talk to visitors and help keep the building clean and tidy.
Heritage Alice Springs manages the arts program, sub leases, venue hire and other activities in the building as well as doing Devonshire Teas on Todd Mall Market Sundays.
Most of these activities are done on a volunteer basis, however sub-leases now enable Heritage Alice Springs to pay Ms Leckey eight hours a week to run the office. She is also paid through the arts program funding for another eight hours a week.
According to Ms Leckey, visitor numbers “more than tripled in 2014, to over 6,500.
“We really noticed an increase when The Bakery started trading here and a lot more locals are coming to the building now for baked goods and to socialize. It’s amazing.’’
The donation box contributes $100 a week to help cover overheads. Admission is free.
The self-service tea and coffee kicks in another $200 a week, but that money, after costs, goes to the Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary Restoration fund.
The Desert Song office, once no longer needed, will remain a rental asset.
“It’s all very tight but it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” is how Ms Leckey puts it.
Photo: Tara Leckey and volunteer Peter Kay in the living room. Judy Berghan in the northern verandah.
Never let a chance go by
By ERWIN CHLANDA